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Avatar and the hope of this world

Avatar Movie image NaviIt appears Avatar has struck a chord with humanity. After six weeks, it remained number one at the box office pulling in more than $550 million in ticket sales. Movie insiders predict Avatar might surpass Titanic’s previous record gross of $601 million in the U.S. alone. Internationally, it has already passed Titanic  with sales topping $1.84 billion. Its first place standing from Western Europe to China seems to say it bridges any cultural divide.

What is it about Avatar that captures the world’s attention? Many are going to Avatar for its cutting edge technological advancements. The movie is visually stunning, and tickets for 3D and Imax 3D showings contribute significantly in the movie’s total sales. Avatar takes place on the planet of Pandora, filled with virgin jungles and breathtaking landscapes. Director James Cameron, left no room for grey in this film. Colors pop off the screen. Bright purples and yellows fill the darkest nights. This disdain for the grey is also evident in the story’s moral stance as there are clear cut good guys and bad guys. There are no inward battles about which side to root for, even when the bad side is apparently the United States.

What is most interesting for the church isn’t why the people are going to Avatar but how they are leaving. A recent CNN article noted a many watchers have left the Avatar experience and found the real world bland. It is something they call “Avatar blues.” Audiences are finding that the grey Cameron avoided in the movie fills our world. Colors are muddled and so too is the distinction between good guys and bad guys. The result is a malaise that hits viewers the minute they leave the theater. There has been a rise in forums designed to help moviegoers cope with the harsh reality that they live on Earth and the dreams of Pandora are as unreachable as the stars. People feel a dissatisfaction with the present world. Avatar is evoking new feelings toward the environment. In an interview with Cameron, Oprah gushed about how the movie changed her view of the environment, relating a story about a tree that fell in her yard. Both Oprah and those with “Avatar blues” are experiencing the same thing. People are looking at the world and seeing something inherently wrong. And that might be the result Christians should be looking for, maybe even praying for.

The themes that fill the heads of people as they leave Avatar are themes the Bible addresses and answers. Moviegoers are right when they feel there is something wrong with the state of creation. The Bible told of this problem long before Cameron did. The problems felt by audiences are a part of a world broken since the fall of man. The quiver in the back of our brains that drives the audience to wonder what might be is not from the loss of Pandora, but a reminder of what was lost in Eden.

The response of many after watching Avatar is similar to Oprah’s. Often it is a renewed environmentalism that Cameron says was part of his intended audience reaction (i.e. we don’t have Pandora, because we are not listening to creation.) What Cameron has done is bumbled into a very biblical concept, but he has come out of on the other side with the wrong answer.

When we let creation speak, we’ll find creation doesn’t want you or me. Creation wants Christ. The Bible tells us in Romans 8.19-22 that what the world is waiting for is the same salvation promised in the Gospel—a salvation that comes through Christ alone. You and I have made the problem, not by carbon emissions or a lack of environmental awareness, but by our sin. And because of that, the corruption of creation, so much a part of our dissatisfaction with this world, is not something we can fix. If this world had its hope in us only, it would be most pitiable.

Isaiah paints a picture of peace and unity in creation between man and beast most similar to that found on Avatar’s Pandora. In chapters 11 and 65, Isaiah promises a time when the lion will lie with the calf and when the child will play over the hole of the cobra and without fear. But Isaiah is clear that that time is not now and that time is not brought about by us, but by the Redeemer, the one whose belt is righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11.5). It is this Redeemer Who will bring about the new heavens and new earth promised in Isaiah 65.17-25. He alone wields the power to fix the creation that we have broken.

Listen to creation. It knows what it needs. It understands that you and I are part of the problem not the answer. The hope for peace between the child and the cobra comes not from a renewed understanding but rather when the head of the Serpent is crushed and the hope of Eden is restored. If you want to save the environment in the way the environment yearns to be saved, you don’t plant a tree, you preach the Gospel. Avatar paints a wonderful picture of what a world could be, but provides no hope. The Bible brings the promise of what the world will one day be and points us to Christ.

Chris Gore is senior pastor of Beggs, First.


Author: Staff

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  • Rodney Jones

    As I read the two articles on Avatar, I do actually agree with the authors. I can also find some room to wish both men had taken their observations to the next level. Might an evangelist find a fertile illustration in the images to present the Gospel to those who leave the movie finding the world a less than perfect “Eden?” I agree that, as most movies are prone to do, the images presented are worldly, naive, and misinformed. But the failure and sin of hollywood is not the issue here. A brief review of history shows the failure of the Enlightenment and secular society was and is, to see science and discovery through the mind of Christ. As a minister of the Gospel, my effort should be focused toward taking the film’s worldly success and being able to see the glory of God in the images. If I can see that, then perhaps I can present Brother Gore’s vivid colors to the lost and dying world that has come away from the movie with the disappointment he observes. Perhaps I can illustrate that Jesus came (not in an image or avatar) but, in the same flesh as fallen mankind to atone for the burden of their sin. By recognizing the images of Native American mysticism or the veneration of ancestors in Avatar’s voices of the ancients, I may be able to respond appropriately to people who have accepted such viewpoints in their search for the image of God. I have heard credible reports from the mission field saying that the real test of a Christian missionary is being able to understand the societies to whom they are bringing the Gospel. By understanding people and their culture, the Gospel may be presented to them without slamming their culture and distancing people from the love of God. Some of the hostility we see today when Christians try to respond to disasters (sunami’s and the like) can be related to a lack of understanding of cultural myths in some former mission attempt. As far as the movie Avatar, the main challenge for the Christian is to point out that instead of the “Savior” coming from the bad guys and saving the Na’vi by overcoming those who sent him in the first place, Jesus came from a good and loving God to reconcile the world to himself. Further issues might be to separate physical battles from spiritual ones. Since there appears to be a plethora of opportunities and illustrations here to bring Christ to the world without flood, fire, earthquake, war, etc. let us do so, rejoicing as we go.

  • Rodney, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree that Avatar and other films provide segues/bridges for proclaiming the Gospel. My concern is that efforts to bridge the Gospel with these films sometimes conflates rather distinguishes the Gospel with the thrust of the film in question. For example, I could hear a preacher likening Jesus to a pill in an effort to connect the Gospel with the Matrix. For me, a more compelling route is to separate or distinguish it from the Matrix (for instance). I like using these culture items as a way to point to something different and better. All the while, realizing that these films do indeed tap into the desires/longings that only the Gospel satisfies.

    • Rodney Jones

      Casey, it would be foolhardy to base our witness and dialogue on anything other than the Bible. (ie. Christ and him crucified.) The combined rhetoric of both articles about Avatar appeared to be pointing out how the movie affected our mission field, and particularly how many of those watching it would come away emotionally and philosophically drained. “There has been a rise in forums designed to help moviegoers cope with the harsh reality that they live on Earth and the dreams of Pandora are as unreachable as the stars.” [as quoted from the above article] I believe the only coping mechanism necessary and successful to respond to man’s separation from the garden, is the hope of salvation. That hope is not a viable alternative, it is the only answer to many of the questions that have been asked, or will be asked, until the return of Jesus. I suppose the real reason I responded to the article is that it seemed to be lacking in the promise and assurance of salvation and seemed only to identify the negative. The last paragraph appeared to be saying we are waiting for the redemption. I suppose between Christians it might be splitting hairs, but I was under the impression that when Christ said, “it is finished” that that particular part of the equation was complete; although establishing the “already/not yet.” I, myself, am waiting for the return of the one who has already redeemed me, not “may or may not.” I suppose that whatever understanding of theology we may have, our focus as Chistians must be to go to where the lost are, and find the segue in their understanding that allows us to proclaim the promise that it is a done deal.

  • I completely agree that Christ is the only answer. Perhaps the reason the article was more diagnosis than prescription, or more critical than constructive is due to time and space limitations. I don’t know. But there is a place, I think, for critical analysis of pop culture.

    You say, “our focus as Chistians must be to go to where the lost are, and find the segue in their understanding that allows us to proclaim the promise that it is a done deal.”

    I say, “Amen!”. Thanks for the dialogue.

  • Chris Gore

    I appreciate the comments. It seems that Rodney you might have misunderstood the last paragraph as pointing the world to Christ and the assurance and hope he gives is exactly it’s point. What Avatar seems to be showing us is that man understands the problems of this world but is looking for all the wrong answers. My point about Christians recognizing how people are leaving Avatar is to encourage Christians. Christians often feel denigrated both socially and intellectually, yet in Avatar we see that many people are sensing a problem with this world and coming away with no answer. The world that mocks the Christian is profoundly silent to answer the very problem that it senses. The Christian can then take heart that the very world that mocks their beliefs finds itself groping for an answer that only they can provide – Christ. I think Avatar poses a wonderful opportunity for delivering the gospel…for Christians to take courage and to realize that they possess the truth and not to fear a world that might ridicule them but in reality desperately needs them. The main purpose of the article was to show that the world is looking in the wrong place and we as Christians must show them that folly.

  • Paul

    You are right that the gospel is the ultimate answer to creation’s problem as well as our own, but I think you’ve created a false dichotomy in saying, “If you want to save the environment in the way the environment yearns to be saved, you don’t plant a tree, you preach the Gospel.” Perhaps you plant trees and preach the gospel. There are many areas of life where we still wait for the day of redemption to be completed, yet we do more than preach the gospel. When a couple is having marital problems we may preach the gospel to them because that is at the foundation of what they need, but we may also teach them good, healthy communication skills if those are lacking. As I raise my children I will preach the gospel to them, but I will also teach them the value of honesty, integrity and hard work because those are good things as well. They won’t be complete until our day of completion, but it’s still good to work on those things in the mean time.

    In the same way, I can realize that the ultimate redemption of creation awaits the coming day of the Lord and plant trees and do better than dump garbage into streams and rivers, etc. all at the same time. In fact, if the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” then that means we’re only stewards. What sort of stewards will we be?

  • Chris Gore

    I agree but I intentionally didn’t say that. In fact at one point I said plant a tree and preach the gospel, but I removed it. Not because I don’t believe in being a good steward but because saying such a thing in this context would be confusing and even dangerous. Avatar and its authors are trying to say that it is exactly in planting trees that you are able to fix the problems of this world. And I want to make sure that we are making a clear distinction. Planting trees is not the answer and it never will be…at least not in terms of bringing salvation. Plant trees by all means but planting trees and maintaining marriages though essential will never fix the root of the problems. All of these struggles work in a way similar to the function of the law. They show us how broken we and all creation really are. The fix for that brokenness can only occur in Christ. We have to be clear about that point, because the world is trying to muddy the waters. But you are right to be worried about Christians not taking seriously their call to address issues like stewardship of creation and the mending of marriages (often their own are even neglected), but we cannot ever assume that those are the gospel.

  • Paul


    Thanks for the clarification. I certainly agree with your point.

  • The Lord’s name was used in vain through out the movie. I couldn’t get past that. The ten commandments the only part of the Bible written by God’s own hand. Number 3.
    We must follow and not take lightly. Love in Jesus Christ.

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